Eternal Conscious Life; What will we remember in Heaven?


Spark of memory

So many articles are written about hell and whether a person will be conscious or aware of any potential torment. This is often defined as eternal conscious torment or ECT. Other people make the case for annihilationism; where the soul or spirit (depending who you ask) is destroyed in an instant and the person will have no memory or awareness of what occurred. But what happens to a "saved" person after death? Will they remember their earthly life when in Heaven? If they can remember their earthly life, doesn't that mean they will remember sinning and how to sin? How could this be if there isn't supposed to be sin in Heaven? (Rev 21:27)

Does the Bible speak to what happens in Heaven to our earthly awareness?

Before we get to that question, we have to lay some ground work about soteriology; the study of salvation. According to Reformation Theology -- which is the 15th century break from the Roman Catholic Church -- salvation is granted to predestined, elected people for God's own glory. This is in contrast with Roman Catholic and modern Baptistic influenced theology which claims man uses "freewill" to choose or reject salvation and that God cannot and does not act until and unless a person acts first. This kind of soteriology is often called synergism or co-working salvation. Now, it is important as to our question whether a person holds to predestination or co-working salvation because this will affect how Heaven is understood.

If a person believes in freewillism, then the question would be what would keep a person from choosing or rejecting God even while in Heaven? After all, we are told Satan/Lucifer had rejected God's control while an angel in Heaven. (Ez 28:11-19, Is 14:12-15, Lk 10:18). Or has the situation changed so that no one in Heaven can sin, even if they wanted to:

"Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life." -- Rev 21:27

This implies there is some kind of transformation or purging of the sinful potential of soul or spirit before it is allowed into Heaven. This would seem to preclude the idea that a freewill spirit still exists in the After Life. Does this transformation also wipe out all remembrance of the person's earthly life? That would seem the case IF God wasn't actually in control of EVERYTHING that happens, even the "sin" and "evil" in the world. Under Reformed Theology, God controls all things; even "bad" things. Everything happens for a purpose; nothing is a random act outside of God's control. In this understanding; our awareness and comprehension of sin while on earth is limited. For example, in the Bible we see many instances where "evil" happens for a good purpose such as the story of Joseph being sold off into slavery by his brothers but later Joseph being used to help his family survive a famine.

" But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive." -- Gen 50:20

The point is, perhaps we will no longer see sins and evil in the same way once we're in Heaven. We will see the full purpose of God as it says 1 Cor 13:12

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." -- 1 Cor 13:12

But since a freewiller thinks sins and evil happen outside of God's control or plan; then it wouldn't be possible to have a Heaven where people could potentially still sin. This would require the person be purged of all memory of sin and their earthly life. The reason a predestinarian could be in Heaven and still understand and remember sin WITHOUT sinning is because they would now see God's full plan; that the sin or evil was a part to bring about the good that God meant. There would be no need to sin or do evil as we understand it because we would be in the full knowledge of God -- we would see the big picture. This is why every doctrine is very important. What we believe about how salvation works, affects more than we know.

Even so, does the Bible actually say that we retain consciousness of our earthly life? I've already quoted 1 Cor 13:12 which indicates our knowledge is currently dim and in part but eventually becomes expanded, not erased nor purged. 1 Thes 4:14-18 indicates we will meet (or have met, if you have a preteristic belief) people we know and we will all be together with the Lord forever. During Jesus' Transfiguration (spiritual certification), He is accompanied by Moses and Elijah; men who had died thousands of years before Jesus came to earth. The humans witnessing the Transfiguration recognized these men as Moses and Elijah (obviously supernaturally via God). Mt 17:1-4. But Moses and Elijah were not merely nameless spirits, they were still identified by their earthly names.

Next, in Rev 6:9-11 we see martyrs who had been killed for the sake of the Gospel who appear to recall what happened to themselves while on earth. This "evil" done to these people is not a cause for sorrow and pain in Heaven. They apparently recall it as a purpose for good. So beyond just the judgment, where there is no doubt we will recall all things we have done; good or evil (Mt 12:36, 2 Cor 5:10), we will have an awareness of our earthly lives even in Heaven. What we do on earth, we will recall in Heaven:

"And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” -- Rev 14:13

So, to think it doesn't matter what we do on earth; even if we're saved is a wrong thinking. Our deeds follow us. We seem to still have an awareness of who we were and what made us, us. We even more than that are impacting our Heavenly presence by the things we do now. (Matt. 6:19-21; Mt. 19:21; Luke 12:33; 1 Tim. 6:19; Luke 19:17, 19; Rev. 2:26-28) It is clear that our earthly lives and Heavenly lives are intertwined.

Further, it seems those in Heaven have some awareness of the activities on earth.

"Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." -- Lk 15:7

But again, all the tragedy and sorrow happening on earth must not cause sadness for those in Heaven because they can see the "meant for good" purpose God has in it all.


Here I want to address some objections. The first is Isaiah 65:17 which says:

"For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind." -- Is 65:17

Is this really speaking of a memory wipe or a thought replacement? What's the difference? An example would be how we might do something to take our minds off a terrible event. While we don't actually forget the event; we remember it no more and it doesn't come to mind because we replace it with more positive thoughts. In this way, we transfer the "bad" thought into a bearable memory. How much more this would be true if we could see a full plan and purpose for a bad event in our lives.
Next, what about our loved ones and especially spouses. What will be our awareness of them? As pointed out earlier, Moses and Elijah retained their identities. However, in Mt 20:30, Mk 12:25, and Lk 20:35 indicate that people in Heaven aren't married but as "as angels". While some people may suppose this means we no longer remember our spouses, it rather speaks of the Heavenly equality rather than the earthly structure. It doesn't say anything about forgetting a person was our spouse. But in Heaven, titles and roles we had on earth won't apply. There will be no fathers or mothers or brothers or sisters either. Again, Moses and Elijah retained their identities even so.

Lastly, what about the person who says they couldn't bear being in Heaven knowing various loved ones were not there or that horrible things are happening to them on earth; or worse yet some of those loved ones are in hell. How can a person in Heaven still be happy and joyous with that awareness and knowledge? Again, we underestimate having the clear picture of God's plan. While we may think certain situations are unbearable and too sad for us to go on; being in the presence and full knowledge of God will change things in our perspective that just cannot be explained now. The closest I can point is the story of Joseph or Job. All the terrible things that happened to them; even at the HAND OF GOD, yet in the end, it was meant for good and they embraced and understood it as so. Heaven will be a place of great joy and we will not lose who we were but rather extend our essence and persona along with God -- we will "be with the Lord always".